There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good home garden harvest. To see all the time and energy you’ve put into planting, fertilizing, watering, and fending off deer, squirrels, insects and disease finally come to fruition is one of the great joys of life!
But for our ancestors, gardening wasn’t so much a hobby as a necessity of life. And summer harvests of fresh vegetables were a joy for different reasons-they brought tastes and nutrients into their kitchen that we, in the age of 24-hour super-grocery markets, take for granted.
I’m from the north, but I grow okra. It’s surprisingly easy-much like a weed, it grows tall and strong no matter how hot or dry it gets. It’s prolific. And you can use the pods in lots of ways (fried!). But the best known is in gumbo!
The Williamsburg Cookbook, from Colonial Williamsburg, says gumbo is the Negro expression for the okra plant. The soup is distinctly American, originating in Louisiana, where it was thickened and flavored by the okra (who know okra was a thickening agent?) and by something called File’ powder, which is the ground leaves of the Sassafras plant. It’s one of my favorite soups-but I’ve never tried to make it myself-until now!
The original version of this recipe also contains ½ cup scallops and ½ cup oysters, which I omitted because I didn’t have any in the house.
• 1 pound raw shrimp, shell-on
• 1 stalk celery plus 1 cup celery tops
• ½ medium onion, diced
• 1 medium green pepper, diced
• 1 clove garlic, diced
• 4 tablespoons butter, divided
• 2 cups canned tomatoes or two fresh beefsteak tomatoes, cut into chunks
• ½ cup tomato paste
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 5 slender pods of okra, about 4-5 inches long, sliced
• Dash Tabasco sauce
• ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• Bay leaf
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 ½ teaspoons gumbo file powder (you can substitute with another pod of okra if you don’t have the file powder)
• ½ cup crabmeat
• 1 cup cooked rice
Peel shrimp, saving hulls. Put hulls and celery tops in a large soup pot with 2 quarts water. Boil for 30 minutes. Strain. (the broth will be green!) Set aside broth and stock pot.
Sauté celery, onions, green pepper and garlic in 2 tablespoons of the butter until tender but not brown.
Transfer sautéed veggies into the stock pot. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and one quart of the stock to the veggies. Let simmer for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the remaining stock into a smaller saucepan. Bring to a boil and blanch the okra for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Make a roux by melting the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and stirring in the flour. Mix thoroughly and cook 3 minutes over low-medium heat but do not brown.
Wisk roux into stock and cook for 5 minutes.
Dice the shrimp. Add the shrimp, okra, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, and salt to stock and simmer for 20 minutes (if you are using scallops, you’ll also add them at this point). Remove bay leaf.
If you are using file powder, take ½ cup of the stock and sprinkle the powder over it. Beat until smooth. Add back to stock and simmer five minutes but be careful NOT to let it boil. It will become stringy and unfit to serve.
Remove the pot from heat and add rice, crabmeat and oysters, if you’re using them.